Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, in on October 24, 1969. She is the daughter of Frances née Rutledge and academic and literary critic Denis Donoghue, and she is one of eight siblings. She received her first-class honors Bachelor of Arts degree from University College Dublin, in English and French, in 1990, followed by a Ph.D. in English from Girton College, Cambridge. She lived in a women's co-op while at Girton, an experience that inspired her short story The Welcome. Her doctoral thesis focused on friendships between women and men in 18th-century fiction.
At Cambridge, she also met her future partner, Christine Roulston, a Canadian who is now a professor of French and Women's Studies at the University of Western Ontario. In 1998, they moved to Canada, and in 2004, Donoghue became a Canadian citizen. The two now live in London, Ontario with their two children, Finn and Una, to whom Room is dedicated.
Donoghue has been supporting herself as a writer from a young age. As her website's biography will tell you, "From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid."
Donoghue published Room in 2010 to critical acclaim. In addition to being shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize, and winning the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Prize (Canada & Carribbean Region), among many others, Donoghue adapted the screenplay for the 2015 film of the same name. As her biography describes, "it was my first feature film, and I was shortlisted for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Bafta for Best Adapted Screenplay. I have a variety of other projects (adaptations of my own and others' works of fiction and memoir, as well as original screenplays) in development for film and television."